No matter how many times you visit a university, re-read the prospectus or consider your future career options, sometimes you can never be 100 per cent certain about your decision until term starts and you begin the next step of your education.
While some students will dismiss doubts as pre-university jitters, others may have a complete change of heart about what course they want to take up. Three years is a long time to be studying a subject you are not passionate about, and £9,000 a year is a lot to spend if you would prefer to be elsewhere.
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Admitting you have made the wrong decision is brave. Especially when uncertainty about your options comes with this admittance.
Today’s question looks at what prospective students should do in this very situation. Get in touch with your own education question and see it featured on Telegraph Education (contact details at the end).
Question: My son wants to switch courses – can he go through Clearing?
My Year 13 son dropped a bombshell at the weekend. He was all set to study geography in September 2016 at UCL.
He has now decided that he really wants to study maths. At the time of completing the personal statement and filling in the Ucas form, he was in a dilemma over the two subjects. He thought long and hard and after visiting both departments at his chosen universities, decided it was to be geography.
His firm choice is UCL and his insurance is King’s. He has said “oh, it won’t be a problem, I’ll just go through Clearing on the day” but after reading all of your advice columns, I’m now terrified at the prospect of what to do.
Please could you advise me what options, if any, are available to him.
Annie Dobson: Get in touch with admissions at both universities immediately
First of all I want to reassure you, it is not at all unusual for young people to change their minds. It happens all the time and universities are used to this situation.
I would suggest that your son phones the maths admissions tutors at both universities and explains to them that he has had a serious rethink about his subject choice and that he would like to discuss his options.
As he has offers from both universities, I am assuming that his predicted grades are good and as long as there are spaces on the courses then I would imagine he may be able to negotiate a way in.
It is not at all unusual for young people to change their minds. It happens all the time. Annie Dobson
His explanation of why he has changed his mind is the important bit. He needs to prepare for it by asking himself questions such as: why do you now want to do maths? What do you want to do with a maths qualification in the future? If the university was to consider you, why would you be a good student for the maths department?
If this fails then he does, as you suggest have the option of Clearing. He would need to withdraw from his first choice and apply through Clearing on A-level results day, Thursday 18 August.
Another option would be to consider taking a gap year, apply again in 2017 and use the year to gain wider experience which will make him an even more attractive student.
Finally, if in any doubt he should ring the Exam Results Helpline. Careers advisers will be on 0808 100 8000 every day from A-level results day onwards supporting students once they have their results.
Annie Dobson, adviser at the Exam Results Helpline
Bella Malins: Students should not start on one degree hoping they will be able to switch to another
It is important that students consider carefully which programme of study is right for them and they need to be sure that they are committing to the correct programme. After all, it is a 3-4 year commitment both in terms of time but also financially.
Whilst we would be disappointed to lose your son from our geography department, if a definite decision has been made to switch programmes, then he is advised to start contacting universities as soon as possible to establish whether there may be places available in Clearing.
UCL mathematics is always full so no places will be available in this subject in either Clearing or Adjustment. UCL spokesperson
UCL mathematics is always full so no places will be available in this subject in either Clearing or Adjustment. However, that is not to say that places in mathematics will not be available elsewhere.
Students should definitely not start on one programme hoping that they will be able to switch once they have enrolled at the university as there is no guarantee that any such request will be considered.
It might be that the best option for your son will be to re-apply to university next year. This will allow more time to consider which mathematics programme and university is right for him
He will know what his A-level grades are so will be in a good position for making informed choices and it will also mean that he is on an equal footing for access to student accommodation.
Bella Malins, director of access and admissions at UCL
Vivienne Durham: Rest assured that switching courses is not uncommon
Firstly, congratulations on having a talented son : achieving a firm offer to read geography from UCL, plus an insurance offer from King’s, is no mean feat.
I quite understand why your son’s decision to change from geography to maths must seem like a bombshell. Believe it or not, changes of heart by students about their chosen university course – either before starting university, or during the first year of the course itself – are not uncommon.
Your son should contact UCL directly and explain the situation. The sooner he does this the better. Vivienne Durham
At this stage of the year, Ucas will recommend that your son contact UCL directly and explain the new situation. The sooner he does this the better. He should not wait until he receives his A-level results on August 18th.
UCL is likely to offer one of two suggestions: either they will enable him to swap course (I am assuming that your son took mathematics A-level). Alternatively, UCL will suggest that your son decline his current offers, including that from King’s, and re-applies via Ucas Clearing.
Either way, please be reassured that your son will receive excellent advice via UCL and Ucas.
Vivienne Durham, schools advisory director at Enjoy Education and former head at Francis Holland School, Regent’s Park